Athletes are some of the richest professionals in the world. The highest-paid football players and soccer stars earn more in a single year than the average American earns in half a millennia.
For the top 1%, the ones whose images you see emblazoned on video game covers, product packaging, and TV commercials, branding seems to come naturally. After all, which company doesn’t want to work with the likes of Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi?
But branding is a carefully considered process, and to a sports star, it can be just as important as throwing a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl or netting a hattrick in the World Cup Final.
This is something that I discussed during my interview with wrestling legend, Nick Aldis. Like so many athletes before him, Nick acknowledges that thoughts of personal branding, and of expanding his career beyond wrestling and fitness, didn’t begin until he reached his thirties.
He was able to act on these thoughts and create something that could (and has) extend beyond his tireless efforts in the ring. But I’ve worked with countless other athletes who were not as proactive and punctual, and as a result, missed an opportunity.
The problem is they are 100% devoted to their work on the pitch, in the ring, or on the court. They have to work hard to stay in shape, to keep their agility and technicality, and to ensure they meet the demands put forward by sponsors, coaches, and owners.
They don’t think about what will happen when they lose their speed, their anticipation, and their touch; they don’t think about how they will make their money when they go from being a star 20-something athlete to an injury-prone 40-year old.
All sports have a shelf life, and anyone involved with this industry must find a way to turn their hard-earned experience into something that will continue paying the bills long after they’ve scored their last points and won their last fight.
Nick managed to turn his experience and his career into something that could extend beyond the ring, and for anyone seeking to do the same, his advice is priceless.
If you’re in a similar position, or you’re just looking to create and grow a personal brand, be sure to watch my interview with Nick Aldis and read the article below.
What Is A Personal Brand?
The term “personal branding” gets thrown around a lot these days. It’s used to refer to everyone from influencers to sports stars and even to businesses. But what is it; what defines a personal brand and why is it so important?
To put it simply, your personal brand is how you promote yourself. It is your story, your purpose, and the way that you present yourself.
A personal brand isn’t that much different from a business’s brand story and identity. A technology company, for instance, may focus on finding innovative solutions to everyday problems. It may have a very clean and laid-back approach to design and advertising, and it will also target a specific demographic of users.
This is its branding; it’s purpose.
Apple is a great example of this. While Apple no longer has a specific demographic of users, its products used to be seen as cool and more premium versions of everything else that was on the market. Its laptops were popular with writers, artists, and other creators, whereas it was all-but shunned by the gaming community.
Even today, many of those elements remain, as does the way that Apple chooses to market itself.
As an individual, it’s much of the same story, only you’re marketing yourself. You have a personal goal, a target demographic; you know who your fans are and what your purpose is.
Personal brand management strategies are the ways in which you take control of this brand, from managing it better to growing your fanbase, branching out into new areas, and, ultimately, increasing your bottom line and your career longevity.
How To Begin Building A Personal Brand
Nick Aldis began his career in the early 2000s. Back then, building a personal brand was just as important as it is now, but very few social media sites existed and they were nowhere near as widespread as they are now.
In many ways, modern athletes and professionals have it easy. They can manage their personal brands by themselves using a phone or computer. They don’t need to hire PR companies, deal with endless agent requests or make friends with journalists.
But competition is fierce, and anyone seeking to establish their personal brand has to contend with millions of influencers, celebrities, and professionals.
If you’re taking your first steps, it can all seem pretty daunting, but with the right advice, you’ll get there eventually:
1. Build Your Online Presence
Instagram and YouTube are two of the biggest platforms right now and are ideal if you’re looking to build a personal brand. You should also look into Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, and even TikTok.
And that’s not all.
If you’re doing anything business-related, get yourself on LinkedIn. It’s a professional social network and is geared more towards creatives, business owners, and entrepreneurs seeking to network and build their brands.
Social network websites come and go. In addition to joining these sites, you should also keep an eye out for the next big thing. If you’re one of the first people to join a major new network, you’ll have an opportunity to learn the ins and outs before anyone else, which means you’ll get a head start.
Not only can this help you on that network, but it can also serve as a launching pad for many others.
Some of the most successful people on YouTube right now have migrated from the defunct Vine platform and from TikTok. They created massive followings on these sites and then took their fans and their brand elsewhere, allowing them to grow faster and bigger.
You may find that one network seems to work better for you than others. Maybe you have a knack for creating video blogs and this helps you build a big subscriber base on YouTube. Maybe you’re a skilled photographer and have experienced massive growth on Instagram.
Whatever the reason, this will happen eventually. The more social media sites you’re a member of, the more likely you are to experience break out success on one of them.
2. Start Slow
If you have already established yourself in your profession, you could be forgiven for thinking that gaining a social media following was just a foregone conclusion.
Surely, once they see that you’re online, your fans will flock in their droves and you’ll gain thousands and even hundreds of thousands of followers overnight!
Except, it rarely works that way. In this sense, social media websites can be very humbling for people who have some kind of offline celebrity. Unless your presence is announced in fan clubs or given a boost on TV, you won’t get that immediate surge.
Your fans are not out there searching Twitter every day in the hope that today is the day you decide to join. And even if they are, there’s a good chance they’ll already be following someone claiming to be you.
You have to start slow, just like everyone else.
If you have some kind of celebrity status, make sure your account is verified as soon as possible; if not, don’t worry about it. In any case, you need to be active from day one, put your content and your ideas out there as often as possible, and build your brand slowly.
It might not happen straight away. It might not even happen in the first year. But it will happen eventually.
3. Know Your Audience
What type of person are you targeting with your content? What is your audience like now and what sort of audience do you need to target to reach your goals?
These are the questions you should ask when you begin to build your personal brand, as these are the people who will be watching, liking, sharing, and commenting on your videos.
The more you know about them, the easier your job will be when it comes to posting, promoting, and growing.
For instance, if you discover that your audience mostly consists of preteens, you probably shouldn’t post images of half-naked men and women getting drunk and having fun. But at the same time, if you’re planning to launch a business that is more adult-focused, you will need to gradually shift your content in a way that appeals to both, allowing you to attract a new fanbase without alienating your existing one.
4. Give Something Back
There are many ways you can promote yourself online. The tried and tested method is to work with marketing companies and to use social media ads. You’ll get more eyes on your content and, eventually, you’ll gain a steady stream of followers.
However, while these methods work very well for businesses selling products and services, they’re not always effective for social media accounts.
Many users don’t react well to influencers who advertise themselves in this manner. They want to find your content naturally and they want to get there because it’s good, not because you’ve paid to have it plastered across their device.
Instead of using your money to purchase advertisements and PR, consider investing it back into your content. This is a method that many personal branding experts use and it’s one that some of the biggest influencers have used to grow their channels.
Take Mr. Beast as an example. He is one of the biggest YouTubers on the platform, and he earned that success because he pumped all of his earnings back into his videos.
On a platform where everyone was devoted to keeping costs low and profits high, he turned the tables, and this generated a lot of buzz.
Some influencers create events and giveaways, others invest in businesses that cater solely for their fans, while others give to charities that are relevant to their audience.
Money isn’t the only thing you can give back. In fact, your audience will value your time more than anything else….
5. Engage With Your Fans
In a recent interview with Restream co-founder Alex Khuda, I discussed some of the ways you can use live streaming to boost your audience and your brand. One of the tips was to engage with watchers directly by encouraging them to leave comments and then replying to those comments after the stream.
This is especially important for individuals who have already established themselves in their industry.
Imagine how happy one of your fans will be if you respond to their comment or even just like it. It’s a few seconds out of your day, but to them, it’ll make their year. They’ll be forever devoted to your brand, they will tell all of their friends, and they will be more inclined to buy whatever you’re selling.
What’s more, they’ll become more active on your social media accounts and this will increase engagement, pushing you higher up the algorithm and attracting more followers.
Spending just thirty minutes responding to comments will give your accounts a massive boost. Do this every time and on every post, and you’ll see the growth first-hand.
You will also get to know your fanbase and become closer to the people who consume your content.
6. Target Your Content Toward Your Desired Demographic
In this digital world, we’ve all become a little too obsessed with numbers. It’s all about how many likes, followers, shares, and subscribers you have, and if you’re building a social media presence, you will probably focus on these numbers above all else.
But 10,000 highly-targeted followers can be worth much more than 1 million general followers.
Let’s use YouTube as an example and assume you’re a wrestler creating a supplement brand.
Wrestling has a very wide-ranging demographic but tends to attract a lot of younger people, including young teens. This is also one of the biggest YouTube demographics, so it’s not unfathomable to think that a wrestler could have an audience that is nearly 90% under 18s.
It’s a big audience, but it’s not easy to make money from this demographic.
YouTube makes it very difficult to advertise to this demographic and they don’t have credit cards, bank accounts, or jobs. It’s a difficult prospect at the best of times, but it’s damn near impossible if you’re trying to sell supplements.
On the flip side, if you had 10,000 aspiring bodybuilders all aged between 20 and 40, you know that every promotion is targeted, every offer is being received, and as a result, your profits will increase significantly.
Instead of creating content that appeals to the lowest common denominator, create content that appeals to your desired demographic and don’t get too caught up in the numbers.
7. Consistently Create Good Content
Athletes have a tendency to focus too much on themselves, and they stay this way for many years. You’ll see an endless succession of gym pictures and copy-pasted inspirational quotes.
It’s content that works for some people, but it doesn’t have legs and it doesn’t really lead into anything useful.
If you want to build a strong brand, create content that extends far beyond how good you look and how much you like quoting other people. Express yourself, whether that means filming regular vlogs, shooting workout videos, writing articles, or even showcasing your creations.
Once you have found your niche, be consistent with it, and make sure the goal is to engage and entertain, and not to sell.
These days, consumers expect to be provided with free content from their favorite influencers and celebrities. They want guides, tips, advice, and interviews, and they get very frustrated if all they see is promo codes and endorsements.
Build your brand first, and then you can focus on how to make it profitable. By rushing in headfirst, you’ll only frustrate the people who would otherwise be purchasing your products and buying into your brand.
How To Manage And Grow Your Personal Brand
Nick Aldis is a great example of what happens when a personal brand is managed properly. He admits that he didn’t always pay attention to his brand and left it a little too late to focus on other ventures, but he worked hard, he took his chances, and he got there in the end.
Nick serves as a great example because he was thrust into the spotlight when he was still a teenager, he had a successful career on TV and in wrestling, and he has since explored several ventures and business ideas. He’s an author, a business owner, and he has also been involved with fitness programs and supplements.
This is why I chose Nick for a talk about personal branding, and he had some great insights to share about the process of managing and growing a brand.
1. Get A Side Hustle
Your chosen industry can only take you so far.
When your career as a football player is over, you can become a pundit or a commentator. But there are thousands of players and only a handful of pundits.
If you want to succeed with your personal brand, you need a side hustle, and that side hustle should start as soon as possible.
Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson is currently one of the highest-paid actors in the world, but if he hadn’t created his own personal brand, one that was separate from his work in the ring, he might not have achieved the success that he has.
Find something else that you are good at; something else that you are interested in. Incorporate this into your personal branding.
Just because you’re a wrestler, doesn’t mean your entire social media persona should be devoted to your character.
What happens when you retire, and that character is no longer relevant? Your fans will be pretty confused if you suddenly take off the mask and start talking about your passion for basket weaving.
Instead, this should be addressed from the outset, allowing you to grow your brand with these associations and to lay the foundations for a new career once your current career is over.
For wrestlers and athletes, fitness is one of the most organic progressions.
If you’re a wrestler, rather than getting into character and shouting into the camera, why not show some of your workouts and your diet? Collaborate with fitness personalities, look at the science of muscle building, and talk about nutrition and supplements.
When you’re ready to call time on your career, you will already have a career in fitness that you can devote yourself to, whether that means training others, creating exercise plans, or launching your own supplement company.
This is not limited to athletes and people in the fitness industry. In fact, during my interview with Nick Aldis, we discussed his business partner, Billy Corgan, best known for his work with The Smashing Pumpkins.
Corgan is a superstar, a rock god, but he also has a passion for wrestling and with help from Nick, he has turned that passion into a side hustle.
Using the power of his personal brand, along with the capital he has accrued through countless platinum-selling albums, Corgan has played a major role in launching a strong, rapidly-growing wrestling brand that could easily be worth 8 or 9 figures in the next few years.
2. Maximize Your Personality
Dwayne Johnson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Vinnie Jones—three superstars who were big in their respective fields and went on to be even bigger in their acting side hustles. They were famous for their athleticism, their size, their strength, but they were also famous for their personalities and this is what helped them to make a name for themselves.
Sure, Dwayne Johnson also happens to be a great actor and Arnie’s not too shabby either, but they wouldn’t have been given their shot at Box Office stardom if they didn’t have a big personality to match their big reputations.
The bigger the personality, the bigger the brand. This is especially true for athletes and is not limited to wrestling and combat sports, where being the center of attention of practically a prerequisite.
But a “big personality” doesn’t mean you need to be the funniest and the loudest. You just have to be noticeable, different.
Whether you’re the lovable person that everyone wants to befriend or the arrogant person that everyone loves to hate, your personality needs to be big, bold, and conspicuous.
3. Don’t Be Scared To Copy Others
Just because someone else in your profession went into radio, TV, and then film, doesn’t mean you can’t do the same; just because they have a supplement range, doesn’t mean you can’t have one as well.
There are over 7 billion people on this planet, with millions of businesses, and hundreds of millions of people trying to make it. Originality is not impossible, but by trying to do something that no one else has done, you’re limiting your range and placing unnecessary restrictions on yourself.
Instead of desperately trying to avoid following in someone’s footsteps, use their stories as inspiration. If they were where you are right now and they took a path that you want to take, you should be learning from them, not hiding from them.
What did they do, why did it work for them, and can it work for you as well? These are the questions you need to ask yourself.
You may discover that you simply don’t have the same sort of recognition that they have.
Maybe they got there by luck or had more experience. Or maybe, you’ll learn that you’re actually better placed to succeed than they are, in which case you have just given yourself a green light to launch a similar project.
4. Don’t Fear Failure
The most successful careers in the world are built on a foundation of failure.
You have to fail to truly appreciate the merits of success. It is the driving force behind some of the most successful sportsmen and sportswomen in history, from Muhammad Ali, who went on to become a living legend despite several stumbles and a lot of doubt, to Michael Jordan, who became the greatest ever despite being dropped from his high school basketball team.
However, many young athletes have yet to truly grasp what it means to fail. They may expect to succeed, believing that if they work hard enough, it will happen.
That’s how their careers are structured, it is the dogma that’s drilled into every athlete from a young age. But business is a different ballgame.
You can’t prepare for every eventuality and, as a result, you will fail multiple times before you succeed. The trick is to keep going.
In the words of Rocky Balboa, it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.
If you hit a roadblock, keep going. Find a solution. If one venture doesn’t work for you, find another one that will.
If you’re a young 20-year old athlete, musician, or influencer, and you focus on 1 idea for every year of your life, that is 10 different ventures by the time you hit 30.
If you still haven’t found your niche, it doesn’t matter, at least you have that experience, at least you’ll be able to tick those things off your list and move onto something.
If nothing else, it will have moved you significantly closer to finding the thing that works best for you.
And trust me, these failures will come. The smartest business minds in the world have the stupidest ideas from time to time, and the younger and more inexperienced you are, the worse your ideas will be.
But that’s okay, because you can learn from those mistakes. Not only will you realize what doesn’t work, but you will gain some valuable insights into what customers want and how businesses operate.
It doesn’t matter how many experts and advisors you speak with or how many books you read. Sometimes, the best way to experience something is to do it yourself, and that’s as true in business as it is anywhere else.
5. Focus On Your Side Hustles
During my interview with Nick Aldis, he spoke about the importance of being a “big fish in a small pond”, as it allowed him to promote his personal brands and further his interests.
He explained that if he had accepted a contract from a major wrestling federation, he wouldn’t have been able to promote his own interests and may have been limited in how he could use his brand.
This is true for many major sporting organizations—they like to stake their claim on their athletes and insist that they do things a certain way.
It limits the ways that an athlete can promote themselves.
However, by accepting an offer from a smaller federation, Nick had more opportunities to promote his own interests.
Of course, if you’re in your early twenties, at the peak of your career, and earning more money than you ever have and ever will, you can’t suddenly devote all of your time and attention to something else. You need to focus on what you do best, on what your employers are paying you to do.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t start the ball rolling. And when opportunities begin to present themselves, and when your career begins to slow down, you can devote more time to that interest.
6. Network With People From Different Industries
Surround yourself with people who can help you, people who can teach and inspire you; don’t be the most successful person that you know.
Self-made millionaires and billionaires may have not been given their fortunes; they may have worked very hard for them, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t helped along the way. Behind every successful person is a series of intelligent, creative, and knowledgeable friends, and an incredibly curious and forward nature.
They’re the ones who are always asking for help and advice, the ones who aren’t afraid to use the influence that their friends and family members have.
There’s nothing wrong with this, and if you have an opportunity like that, it would be crazy not to use it.
If you mingle with lawyers, accountants, tech professionals, entrepreneurs, marketing experts, and more, not only will you have a more interesting social circle, but you’ll also have more people to call on when you’re launching a new business, have some legal questions, or have some financial woes.
7. Take Your Audience On A Journey
One of the things that Nick attributes to his success is that he stopped trying to sell to his fans and focused instead on taking them on a journey.
It’s similar to the old adage of “engage don’t sell” that I have discussed multiple times in This Week with Sabir, including in my interviews with Shark Tank investor Matt Higgins and branding expert Habib Salo.
When your only goal is to sell something to your customers, they quickly lose interest and the connection between you weakens. This is true for all businesses but it’s even more important for people building a personal brand.
We’re living in an age of constant connectivity. Fans can message their idols directly using Twitter, Instagram or Facebook; they are invited into the daily lives of their heroes via YouTube blogs and live streams. The gulf that used to separate celebrities from their fans has narrowed and, as a result, fans are more expectant, more demanding.
Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Imagine that your hero is a sports star who has just called time on their career. You’ve watched their blogs, followed their Instagram stories, and seen them appear on countless live shows.
You’re now ready to support them on their next journey.
How would you feel if the first thing they did was launch a new clothing line and then spend the next 2 months trying to sell them to you? Sure, you want to support them, but if that’s all you are doing then it’s a one-sided relationship, it doesn’t benefit you, and it gets old fast.
Conversely, if they announce that they’re launching a new league/event and, instead of asking for donations and selling products, they only want to show you the process and invite you to participate, you’ll be more inclined to support them.
This, in essence, is what Nick did and it likely played a big part in his success.
His fans joined him on the journey. They could feel like they were part of something special and could contribute to it along the way. As opposed to simply supporting their heroes by buying products and lining their pockets, they were supporting an idea and joining the team.
This is key, and it’s something that many influencers overlook.
Unfortunately, that first example isn’t purely metaphorical. I’ve seen numerous bodybuilders, athletes, and sports stars go down the exact same route. They understand that they have a large fanbase will to follow their every move and buy their every product, and so they take advantage of this.
They sign deals with clothing companies, supplement companies, and anything else they can get their hands on.
It reminds me of Krusty the Clown, Springfield’s very own fanbase abuser. He endorses everything from handguns and vodka to imitation gruel and greeting cards, because he only thinks about the money. As a result, his fanbase loses respect, his fandom dwindles, and he becomes washed up and forgotten.
Don’t confuse devotion with naivety and remember that your fans don’t have unlimited patience. If you want to keep them, to grow your personal brand, and to continue turning a profit, you need to engage them, take them on a journey, and give them something more than a price tag and a promise.
8. Pace Yourself
Your fans are the backbone of your brand and you can’t succeed without them. At the same time, however, it’s important to remember that you’re the one whose capital and reputation is at risk, and you’re the one who should dictate the direction of your business, not them.
In our interview, Nick mentioned just how eager wrestling fans are and how demanding they can be. If they see a successful show, they wonder when the next one will be arranged, when things will be scaled up, when merchandise will be available, and when it will have its own TV show.
All of these things are great if they happen, but you can’t force them, and you shouldn’t rush into things. Fans want to see the end result—whether that’s the content you produce or the products you create.
The more of this they see, the better. They don’t see the hard work that goes into creating them, they don’t understand the financial risk.
They want to be entertained; you need to make money and safeguard your future. These things don’t always mix, so you need to prioritize the latter.
Nick’s $100,000 Advice
At the end of a very productive and informative interview with branding expert Nick Aldis, I asked him the question that you were all waiting for.
What is the single piece of advice that he would give to people looking to establish a successful personal brand?
He told me that it ultimately boils down to one word:
But that doesn’t mean you need to be yourself.
You can be larger than life if you want to, and if you can pull it off, you probably should be. But if you do, it’s important not to look fake and contrived. At best, it comes across as false; at worst it’s cringe-worthy and seriously off-putting.
It’s the difference between your most extroverted and “fun” friend on a good day, and a children’s TV presenter at 10 am in the morning after 3 hours of filming.
If you can commit to it, sustain it, and keep it authentic, go for it. If not, the “you” you’re most comfortable with will suffice.
Meet Our Guest: Nick Aldis
After receiving a break at 21 years old appearing on Gladiators (The UK version of NBC’s American Gladiators) he caught the eye of Impact Wrestling which at the time was the top-rated show on SpikeTV. After a six-year run with the company that saw him become the first British wrestler to win their World Championship, he decided to explore new horizons and in 2017, he joined forces with Billy Corgan who had recently purchased the National Wrestling Alliance. Since then, the brand has been on a mission to establish a new digital model for pro wrestling in the 21st century with their acclaimed digital series “Ten Pounds of Gold” and episodic show “NWA Powerrr” as well as several other digital projects. Nick had his first book “The Superstar Body” published in 2015 by Pitch Publishing and is about to launch a sports nutrition brand.